Mysterious 'IT' Inventor Downplays Hype

The inventor of a mysterious new gadget said to be more important than the Internet has stepped forward to say "IT" may not change the world, after all.

"We have a promising project, but nothing of the Earth-shattering nature that people are conjuring up," said Dean Kamen, president of Manchester, N.H.-based DEKA Research, in a statement.

Fuzzy details about Kamen's new product were leaked in a book proposal last week, setting off a wave of speculation in the media and on the Internet about what the invention — which is known simply as "IT," or by the code name "Ginger" — might be.

Was it a new, revolutionary type of computer or maybe a personal scooter, similar to a hovercraft?

It was the frenzied guessing games and overblown reports of what IT might be that encouraged Kamen, who had refrained from any comment at first, to issue the statement on Friday.

The invention had been described as having the firm backing of such high-tech leaders as Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. An article on Inside.com published Tuesday said the two executives deemed IT to be of great social and economic importance.

But in his statement Kamen said several of the comments cited in the book proposal were taken out of context.

"The leaked proposal quoted several prominent technology leaders out of context, without their doubts, risks and maybes included," Kamen said in the statement. "This, together with spirited speculation about the unknown, has led to expectations that are beyond the mere whimsical."

Is IT Publicity Good-Science?

As soon as the proposal was leaked, top scientists commented that it was a very unusual way to introduce an idea or a product to the world — but it was a fantastic sales strategy.

“Usually, there’s a scientific background and then you would imagine seeing things in published literature in peer review” before a new scientific advance is described in a mass-market book, says Nobel Prize-winning chemist and physicist Alan Heeger.

Even with the extreme hype, Kamen may not be overly troubled by the buzz surrounding his new product, said Silicon Valley technology and publishing consultant Paul Saffo.

Kamen is "without a doubt a brilliant inventor," Saffo said. "He likes to compare himself to Tom Edison ... [and] like Edison, he's also a brilliant promoter."

Is This IT?

ABCNEWS.com has learned of a patent that may be for IT — which indicates that it may be a type of personal scooter.

The book proposal said IT will sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking. The proposal quotes Kamen, who has won the National Medal of Technology, as saying the device will be an alternative to products that are “dirty, expensive, sometimes dangerous and often frustrating, especially for people in the cities.”

Heeger says IT wouldn’t appear in the scientific press if IT is a combination of existing technologies rather than a new scientific advance.

If IT is a scooter, IT probably uses technology already developed for Kamen's wheelchair, Saffo said. He's betting on IT being a gyroscopically stabilized, one-wheeled scooter with an unknown but powerful fuel source. The fuel source may be the true breakthrough, Saffo said.

"If you look at the pieces in it, it's basically just reassembled bits of pieces in the wheelchair," Saffo said.

The IT Craze

IT has certainly captured the imagination of Americans. When Good Morning America asked viewers to e-mail ideas about what IT might be, hundreds flowed in.

ABCNEWS.com's message board on the subject shows speculation runs the gamut. Included as possible explanations for IT were: the long sought-after Sterling Engine, which could make fuel from almost any material including water and have no dirty emissions; a zero-friction scooter that could go 100 meters with just one push; a truth analyzer for the television; and a personal helicopter one person saw "in a vision."

Greg Bottorff, the proprietor of TheITQuestion.com, says that most of the users of his site think IT is a personal scooter, but there are also other opinions out there. Under this sort of public scrutiny, he said, we're going to find out what IT is sooner rather than later.

"I think the press and the pressure will cause somebody to crack," he said.

And Saffo says that's something of a pity.

"Part of me wishes we never figure out what it is because we're all having so much fun chasing after it ... everybody's going to look back and realize it was a lot more interesting before Dean told us what he was doing. That's how all mysteries are."

ABCNEWS.COM's Sascha Segan, ABCNEWS Don Dahler and Jennifer Lew, and Reuters contributed to this report.

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